3 Big + 12 (Little) Tips to Win Over Skeptical Audiences

It amazes me how quickly I can form an impression of a presenter. Within a few minutes, I either like them, and find it easy to listen to what they have to offer, or don’t, and force them to win me over as I listen skeptically to them.

For me (and I’m hopeful you’ll agree!), it comes down to whether the presenter shows respect for the audience. As soon as they start pontificating – or I feel like that is what they are doing – I’m turned off. Other things too, like talking to me with their back turned to their audience, or dressing way too formally when we’re all business casual, or feeling like they would give the same presentation whether the audience was in the room or they were just delivering it for their honorarium to an empty house.

Here are my 3 quick tips to win over skeptical audiences. What would you add?

1. Don’t make yourself the hero. Tony Hsieh, the Zappos.com founder, started his PCMA keynote with a story about a bus tour he was on to promote his book, Creating Happiness. He told us about stopping at a hospital and visiting with a young girl, just hours after her surgery. As he talked about his book and his Creating Happiness project, he told us, that her eyes kept getting wider and wider. He was so excited that she seemed so excited that he kept showing her different photos of the project and blabbing on. Finally, he asked if she had any questions. With the widest eyes ever, he said, she said, “Yes, may I see your iPad?”

He brought down the house (whatever that means!) and we were all cheering wildly. For him.

Do you see how that story could have been all about Tony and the great work he was doing and what a hero he is? But no. He revealed everything we needed to know about him with that story.

Don’t tell us how you slew dragons and were never dirtied. Make others the hero of your stories.

2. Help the audience look good. Authentically. Often someone will say something in a training session and the answer is wrong. Never, ever, say: “That’s wrong!” Don’t even say, “No, that isn’t right.” As soon as you do, as soon as you make one of the group feel less smart, you alienate yourself from the rest of them. No matter how much you think they like you, they are more attached to their group.

I do everything I can to find something in the answer that I can authentically agree with and build on it. Maybe, I can only say: “Yes, that is one way to look at it and another way might be….”

The more you can help them to feel good about themselves, the more open they’ll be to you.

3. Eliminate disrespectful presentation behaviors. Here is a quick list (what can you add?):
•Being dishonest in any way. (Great answer – when it wasn’t.)
•Way overdressing or underdressing.
•Using filler words (um, you know) to distraction. (In junior high school, my English class would count the number of times Mr. Connelly [rest in peace] would say “whatnot”. And we loved Mr. Connelly but “whatnot” drove us nuts! Don’t make them count anything you do!).
•Talking while you’re walking away from them, with your head to the ground, while writing on a white board. Talk facing them, looking at them, loving them.
•Standing in front of the LCD so words dance around on your chest. Or blind your eyes.
•Standing in front of the screen so your audience can’t see your slides.
•Filling your slides with too many anythings (especially words!).
•Tap-dancing; pretending you know the answer when you don’t. (See first bullet!)
•Being passionless.
•Being boring.
•Starting with an apology for anything
•Going overtime.

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